My first memories of Sandy Hook are of it being "the back way."
After we moved to Southbury, Conn., when I was five, my father's preferred route back to Danbury to visit our grandparents and other relatives was through the Sandy Hook district of neighboring Newtown on secondary roads, rather than the more direct, but crowded, Interstate 84. To this day, we refer to taking that route through Sandy Hook as going "the back way."
I remember it being very quaint and country, with a small shops and old New England homes nearby. And I remember going to a food co-op there with my mom during the 1970s crunchy-granola health food fad.
This past New Year's Eve, my husband John and I went to dinner with my sister, brother-in-law and parents at Figs in Sandy Hook. As we drove into Sandy Hook, I looked around and commented to John on how little the area had changed over the years.
Friday, everything in Sandy Hook changed as 27 people, including 20 children, were killed in a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Never again will I think first of Sandy Hook's quaint charm first. Instead, Friday's pain and fear, strength and love will be remembered before that.
Friends raised or are raising their children in Newtown. One of the very first friends I made in kindergarten works at another Newtown school, and was a longtime friend of Sandy Hook Elementary principal Dawn Hochsprung, who was killed in the shooting. Another friend who goes all the way back to kindergarten started the week preparing for her father's funeral. She ends it grieving for a family friend who lost a child in Friday's massacre. My mom works at a school in Southbury. Knowing that something like this happened in a place so close to home, so close to people I love, is chilling.
My Facebook feed was flooded Friday with old friends -- many still in Connecticut, others as far away as San Francisco and Afghanistan -- feeling similar shock and horror. It was one of those times I was glad for social media. It truly brought people together.
As my friends from Southbury, Middlebury and Newtown gathered, they were shown sympathy and support by my friends near and far. One was Cindy, an American ex-pat raising her family in Norway, who saw her community affected by the mass murders there in 2011. "I know just how you feel and I wish neither of us did. I'm so sorry," she said to us.
A high school friend, Danielle Noel Hawthorne, used Facebook and Stratford Patch to organize and publicize a candlelight vigil in Stratford. As Danielle's wife, Robyn Greenspan, said in the comments, "The power of people coming together for a heartfelt purpose is amazing."
Another high school friend, Maryann Morehouse, was picking up her children Friday afternoon from her former husband at the Dunkin Donuts in Middlebury. They had raised the kids in Newtown, they still had family and friends there, so it was a rough day for them all. As they all hugged, a woman nearby said, "Wait, now I need a hug. Can I get a hug?" Maryann being Maryann, she promptly embraced the woman. And then found out that the woman was one of the area Patch editors handling coverage of the shooting. As she posted on my Facebook page Friday evening, Maryann felt like we were hugging each other by proxy.
Lessons from this? Not now. Not for me. Not for my friends. The blood is still fresh, the tears are still flowing, the hands are still shaking. Now, the lesson is to just love and cherish each other more. I love you, home.